When we think about the European past, we tend to imagine
villages, towns, and cities populated by conventional
families-married couples and their children. Although most people
did marry and pass many of their adult years in the company of a
spouse, this vision of a preindustrial Europe shaped by
heterosexual marriage deceptively hides the well-established fact
that, in some times and places, as many as twenty-five percent of
women and men remained single throughout their lives.
Despite the significant number of never-married lay women in
medieval and early modern Europe, the study of their role and
position in that society has been largely neglected.
Singlewomen in the European Past opens up this group for
further investigation. It is not only the first book to highlight
the important minority of women who never married but also the
first to address the critical matter of differences among women
from the perspective of marital status.
Essays by leading scholars-among them Maryanne Kowaleski, Margaret
Hunt, Ruth Mazo Karras, Susan Mosher Stuard, Roberta Krueger, and
Merry Wiesner-deal with topics including the sexual and emotional
relationships of singlewomen, the economic issues and employment
opportunities facing them, the differences between the lives of
widows and singlewomen, the conflation of singlewomen and
prostitutes, and the problem of female slavery. The chapters both
illustrate the roles open to the singlewoman in the thirteenth
through eighteenth centuries and raise new perspectives about the
experiences of singlewomen in earlier times.
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